Not just for the unexpected ending, but for the constant, very modern thoughts that crowded my head as I was reading it.
Basically, this is the story of a ruthless old king who, not having any sons, has his daughter raised as a boy, then sends her to assume his brother’s throne (after the ruthless old king has ruined the good name of his brother’s only heir).
It’s a knotty, Shakespearean set up and I was so consumed with thoughts of the delightful ways a modern writer could treat the topic, that I failed utterly to see the ending coming. In fact, I’ll bet nobody saw that ending coming. It’s not done often.
Twain refuses to give the story a proper ending, saying it’s too hard! (Highlight these lines to see the spoiler)
This story is unsophisticated. You don’t get the impression Twain ever had any angst over his storytelling/writing. He just spun tales the way he would if he were telling it to you at a cocktail party, relying on his natural style and exuberance to paper over any cracks. As a result, I read the story with the voice-of-my-critique-group clucking its collective tongue and crossing out words here and there.
But who cares? It’s a story. And it entertained me. Especially the ending.
And it made me think: what if someone else was to end the story?
(In fact, in searching for this story I found a collection of similar stories, all with sequels that have been written to complete the original puzzle).
It just goes to show: you don’t have to be conventional when it comes to short fiction! 😉
Would you retell this story today? How would you end it?